The CIA lacked a strategy to counter al Qaeda in the months leading up to the September 11 attacks and committed multiple analytical and operational failures that prevented the agency from stopping Osama bin Laden’s terror group, according to a once-secret CIA inspector general report released yesterday.
Before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the CIA and its officers “did not discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner,” the report said, noting that the agency should create an “accountability board” of non-CIA personnel to review the failures.
However, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, along with his predecessor, Porter J. Goss, rejected the creation of the accountability board in an apparent effort to protect agency bureaucrats from being held accountable. Congressional leaders have criticized the CIA for failing to rebuke a single employee for intelligence failures related to September 11.
The inspector general’s criticism was kept secret for three years, and the report’s 19-page executive summary was posted on the CIA’s Web site after pressure from congressional members who had sought to legislate its release. The purpose of the IG report was to determine whether any CIA employees should be punished for failures related to September 11.
According to the report, the CIA was guilty of “failure to implement and manage important processes, to follow through with operations, and to properly share and analyze critical data.”
Strained relations between the CIA and the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic spying, also hampered efforts to counter al Qaeda, the report said, blaming former CIA Director George J. Tenet for failing to resolve the differences. The NSA refused to share raw intelligence with the CIA.
The report identified several pre-September 11 analytical shortcomings: a failure to produce a single report focusing on bin Laden since 1993; no analysis of the possible use of hijacked aircraft as terrorist weapons; a limited focus on the U.S. as a potential target; and no analysis of terrorist threats from the spring and summer of 2001.
Operationally, the CIA failed to plant a spy inside or near al Qaeda and thus lacked “actionable intelligence” that could have prevented the September 11 attacks, the report said, noting that the CIA relied too heavily on liaison with foreign spy agencies. It also was restricted by post-Watergate “dirty asset” rules that limited recruitment of terrorists. In particular, CIA ties to Saudi Arabia limited the agency’s ability to understand and stop al Qaeda, the report said.
The CIA relied on a single group of covert-action personnel who were “of questionable reliability” and lacked the expertise to pursue bin Laden, the report said. The CIA also failed to disrupt al Qaeda’s finances, the report said. Funding for counterterrorism was mismanaged, the report said, with funds taken from the Counterterrorist Center and used to pay corporate taxes and other non-counterterrorism needs.
Also, U.S. intelligence agencies failed to employ a “comprehensive approach to al Qaeda.” The inspector general singled out Mr. Tenet, who the report said “did not use all of his authorities in leading the intelligence community’s strategic effort against” bin Laden.
Mr. Tenet was “either unwilling or unable to marshal the full range of [intelligence community] resources necessary to combat the growing threat to the United States,” the report said.
Mr. Tenet said the report is wrong in claiming there was no plan to fight al Qaeda.